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Shady de Blasio Fundraiser Asked City Hall for Hotel Rezoning Help: Sources

By James Fanelli | January 24, 2017 7:37am
Smali "Alex" Amanollahi was a fundraiser in 2013 for Mayor Bill de Blasio. DNAinfo has recently learned that Amanollahi, whose employees made suspicious donations, met with City Hall officials about getting an East Elmhurst property rezoned so he could build a hotel.
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DNAinfo New York

EAST ELMHURST — The night club impresario and beauty product wholesaler whose employees made suspicious donations to Bill de Blasio's campaign threw a fundraiser in 2013 for the future mayor under a bogus name and two years later met with City Hall officials about rezoning a Queens property that he wanted to turn into a hotel, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Sm-Ali "Alex" Amanollahi — whom DNAinfo wrote about last spring for his connection to possible straw donations and for losing money to accused fraudster Hamlet Peralta — co-hosted a fundraiser in October 2013 at a club under the name Alex Amano, sources said. In total Amanollahi, his employees, family and friends gave at least $55,000 to de Blasio's campaign and transition committee in 2013, records show.

Sm-Ali "Alex" Amanollahi, a fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio, met with City Hall officials about rezoning his property at 23-04 94th St. in East Elmhurst so he could turn it into a hotel. The property (pictured) was formerly a one-story restaurant.
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DNAinfo New York

Two years after the fundraiser, Amanollahi hit up City Hall officials with help in rezoning his property at 23-04 94th St. in East Elmhurst, sources said.

The rezoning discussions took place in 2015 and 2016. The talks involved Amanollahi, who was going by Alex Amano, meeting with deputy mayor Alicia Glen's chief of staff, James Patchett, and one of her senior advisors, Steven Caputo, at City Hall, according to sources.

Amanollahi, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, had sought to turn the East Elmhurst property into a glitzy hotel for travelers passing through LaGuardia Airport, according to sources.

The property was formerly a one-story restaurant called Gran Rancho Jubilee. It is zoned for certain commercial use in a low-density residential neighborhood, city records show. Its classification allows for businesses that meet local retail needs like neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants or beauty parlors, according to city zoning rules.

Amanollahi corresponded with City Hall officials and in 2015 met with Patchett, who was recently appointed the head of the city's Economic Development Corporation. Sources said officials told him to go through the public process of rezoning a property, which involves winning the support of the local community board and the local City Council member.

However, in April 2016, Amanollahi decided not to move forward with the rezoning because of the costs involved, including hiring a lobbyist to interact with the local community, legal fees and producing an environmental impact study, sources said.

Eric Phillips said that "there's no record of or recollection of James Patchett ever taking a meeting on this issue."

"He certainly didn't weigh in on it, much less support the proposal," Phillips said. "City Hall never even had any contact with the agency of jurisdiction on this. It simply wasn't on our radar."

He added that donations do not play a role in the work City Hall does.

Caputo, Glen's former advisor who now teaches at Columbia University, said he has no recollection of Amanollahi or the rezoning matter.

Amanollahi's decision to scrap his hotel plan also came around the time that the media began reporting about federal investigators looking into possible pay-for-favor schemes involving the NYPD and de Blasio's fundraising.

DNAinfo reported exclusively in May that federal investigators were also looking into straw donations made to de Blasio's campaign. In its report, DNAinfo identified two drivers for Primary One — Amanollahi's beauty product business in Glendale — who each contributed nearly $10,000 to de Blasio inside of two months.

At the time, when DNAinfo contacted one of the drivers, Rafael Zepeda, he initially acknowledged making the donations. But hours later, Zepeda, who lives in a modest third-floor walk-up in Corona, called DNAinfo to say he didn't make the contributions.

De Blasio's campaign recently made good on its promise to give up donations that were connected to Amanollahi. It handed over $37,150 in contributions from Amanollahi, his employees and his associates to the city's Campaign Finance Board on Oct. 19, 2016, records show.

Aside from running a beauty product business, Amanollahi owns the nightclub Amadeus in Queens and is a co-owner of the Jue Lan Club, a high-end Chinese restaurant and lounge in the former Limelight club space in the Flatiron District.

Stratis Morfogen, a restaurateur and partner in Jue Lan, described Amanollahi as an ethical businessman.

"Nothing is done unless it's 100 percent legal," he said of Amanollahi. "Nothing is done without the utmost integrity."

Amanollahi and Morfogen also have a Jue Lan Club in Southampton, where police busted four bartenders this past summer for serving alcohol to minors.